Lowdown on the Five Tibetan Rites

Early in the week the forecast declared that a 5000-mile-long “river in the sky” (that’s over 8000 kilometers for my metric friends) had the Pacific Northwest targeted. Sure enough. All the rain that didn’t happen throughout the summer is happening now. I experimented with a new venue. I probably won’t use it again–too echoey though I managed to dampen the echo in post-production.

 

For this video, I go through the Five Tibetan Rites, a series of five simple yogic exercises that is touted as “the fountain of youth” among the ancient lamas of Tibet. They say that if you do 21 mindful reps of each exercise you can reap the vivifying effects: everything from erasing wrinkles and grey hair to normalizing hormones to stress release to increased mobility. Of those, I can attest to the last two, after all, I’d argue any series of large-muscle-group-targeting yoga poses done daily should release stress and improve agility and strength. With the one-breath-per-movement technique, these exercises are a great way to warm up the body, particularly the spine. They pretty much cover all the major muscle groups and their antagonists. The only things they leave out are twisting- and side bending movements, so if you wanted to embrace the Fountain of Youth as your primary practice, I recommend throwing in a few spinal twists and maybe a side angle or two.

The Source 

[Warning: esoteric history ahead. I geek-out a bit on this stuff. If you want to get right to the exercises and/or their elemental attributions, scroll down to the next sections.]

Where do these “Tibetan Rites” come from? The legend is that they’re 2500 years old, at least according to The Eye of Revelation by Peter Kelder, published in 1939 at the beginning of what some call America’s “proto-new age”. Esoteric spirituality was all the rage, and in the book Kelder relates a meeting he had in southern California with a retired British army colonel who went by the pseudonym of Colonel Bradford and who shared with Kelder stories of travel and the subsequent discovery of the Rites. The Colonel related a story he had heard from “wandering natives” about a group of lamas who discovered the “fountain of youth”. He had accounts of old men who entered a particular lamasery and became healthy, strong and full of “vigor and virility”.

According to Bradford via Kelder, the lamas teach that there are seven “psychic vortexes” in the body: two in the brain, one in the throat, one in the right side near the liver, one in the genitals, one in each knee. The spin rate decreases as we age. We can restore youth-speed by doing the Rites. Though these particular vortices don’t really align with popular chakra symbolism, they do line up rather well with a diagram from Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception by Max Heindel referring to the psychic centres in the “desire body” (astral body for my transcendental-meditation friends out there).

There are hints of a “sixth Rite” but only for those interested in leading a more celibate life complete with a particular way of eating. (I feel it important to note that Bradford was about 60 at the time and apparently looked his age).

It was not recognized by any contemporary Tibetan school as a practice. When yoga instructor Chris Kilham popularized the Rites in 1994, a lama and scholar (nameless) affirmed that they come from a tradition of Tibetan yantra-yoga. However, yoga as we know it didn’t appear until 1800 years ago, 700 years after the 2500 years claimed by Kelder. The date leads some to believe it comes from a Tibetan practice of Kum Nye (medical body practices, vaguely similar to Tai chi). Thus, they could just as easily have come from Nepal since it was a Himalayan lamasery Bradford talked about.

In Lesson Five of Modern Magick (the lesson on physical vitality), Donald Michael Craig introduces the Rites as taken from Kelder’s booklet and popularized the Rites among occultists back in 1988 a bit before Kilham.

The Exercises

Let’s get to the movements. Each exercise is meant to be done in groups of seven. Start out with seven, increase to fourteen, and eventually arrive at 21. Twenty-one is a sacred number in Tibetan Buddhism (Tara, a principal Bodhisatva, is said to have 21 forms).

  1. The Spin: Stand up straight with arms in a T and spin clockwise (left arm comes forward). When finished, stand with the arms out until equilibrium returns.
  2. Leg lifts: Lie supine on the floor and raise your feet at a 90-degree angle, lift your head off the ground and press the belly button down toward the floor. On the inhale, lower the legs as a unit until they hover off the mat and lower the head back onto the mat. On the exhale lift the legs and head to your starting position.
  3. Camel pulse: Inhale into camel (hands pushing the sacrum forward); exhale back to neutral, tucking the chin toward the chest.
  4. Staff to Reverse Tabletop: Start in dandasana (staff pose), palms at either side of the hips, feet hip-width apart. Inhale to lift the hips, roll onto the soles of the feet into Reverse Table Top, the shoulder blades supporting the chest. On the exhale, come back into dandasana.
  5. Down-and-Up Dog: Start in adho mukha svanasana (downward dog). Inhale through plank to an urdhva mukha svanasana (upward dog), but keep the toes tucked. On the exhale, lift the hips back up into adho mukha svanasana.

The Tibetans and the Elements

Yogis and occultists alike have tried to ascribe the five traditional elements to the Five Tibetan Rites, but none agree on the attributions. Here are a few that are out there and the reasonings behind them (my preferred elemental correspondences are first):

Order Movement Element
1 Spin (clockwise) Spirit
2 Leg Lifts Earth
3 Kneeling backbends (camel) Air
4 Staff/Table Top Fire
5 Up/down dog Water

Reasoning (and alternatives for consideration):

  1. Spin—all agree the spin is spirit/ether, and I see no reason to counter that. It’s a “volatilizing” action, done when the body is fully erect, and in every hierarchy of elements, spirit takes the top position.
  2. Leg lifts: Earth—fully on the ground, work on lower, earthly part of body

Fire—next in Western hierarchy from spirit; the movement generates heat in the abs, the typical location of the fire chakra

Water—lower abdominal work (water chakra)

Air—next in Eastern hierarchy of elements from spirit

  1. Camel: Air—opening the chest, correspondence with lungs, affects the heart (airy chakra)

Fire—the second “highest” physical position (western hierarchy of elements)

Water—unlocks the watery subconscious

  1. Reverse Tabletop: Fire—upward facing, working into arms, upper ab focus in staff (fire chakra)

Air—physical position next in Western hierarchy of elements

Water—correspondence with kidneys and hips’ link to water chakra

Earth—the table shape represents stability

  1. Up-Downdog: Water—action flows like water, correspondence to hips (which do most of the moving) and abs

Earth—large range-of motion (encompassing all the elements, as earth contains all the subtler elements), facing downward toward the earth

Fire—the range of motion generates heat

 

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